All posts tagged Politics

  • France’s Response to Terrorism is Mostly Useless

    I spent the holidays in France enjoying the hospitality of some friends, overindulging in cheese and wine, and trying out a tandem bike. The cheese and the wine were the same and the tandem bike was a nice addition, but France had changed since my last trip there four years ago. Evidence of the recent terrorist attacks on Paris felt immediately present . . . in all the wrong ways.

    I’d already planned the trip when “Paris” happened, and as my arrival approached, I began to wonder how France would be different from when I was last there in 2012. Would there be more security at the airport? Would they ask me questions about my plans in the country? Would they give me the same ‘you’re a piece of dirt on my shoe’ treatment that Israeli border guards are famous for?**

    I had my passport quickly checked after getting off the plane, but unless my bags were scanned on the tarmac, they weren’t screened. At border control, the agent looked at me for less than two seconds before stamping my passport. It didn’t seem like security had been particularly heightened, at least not for white girls with Canadian passports – not even ones full of Turkish passport stamps.

    It wasn’t until I left passport control that I observed the first signs of France’s response to the attacks. A group of soldiers carrying machine guns big enough to make an NSA agent reconsider his position on gun control walked languidly, aimlessly past me. Aha! Finally, the heightened security. The soldiers were nearly all young men; few looked older than 23. This was probably for the best, I thought. If suicide bombers are willing to commit suicide to carry out an attack, opening a round of fire on them post-blast might not be much of a deterrent. The potential civilian casualties, on the other hand, could be enormous.

    I did not take this picture, but it is very representative of what the soldiers look like. This is at the Gare du Nord, in Paris.

    I did not take this picture, but it is very representative of what the soldiers look like. This is at the Gare du Nord, in Paris. Photo Credit: Evan Bench.

    The patrols popped up in crowded places all over the country. Many of my friends shook their heads at their presence and the obvious inefficacy of the French response to the attacks. “There is no verification at many border checkpoints,” an AirBnB host told me. “At the big ones, yeah, but at the little ones, no. I drove to Germany on the smaller country roads the other day, and they didn’t look twice at me – just let me go through.” Later, a friend remarked that if even one of those soldiers had a violent mental illness, they might open fire on civilians, and that access to guns statistically raises the rates of shootings.

    Early on in the trip, I learned from television that certain factions in French politics would advocate for stripping a terrorist’s French citizenship if they held citizenship in another country. Half of the group that I was watching with seemed to support this idea. “Well,” one said, “we wouldn’t take away their citizenship unless they had dual citizenship of course. They wouldn’t be stateless. Anyway, why should French people pay to imprison people who kill French people? It’s not like we have any money to spare!”

    We had the same debate a few months ago in Canada, before the well-timed demise of the great bogeyman in the oilfields, so it isn’t like I can look down on France for proposing it. Embarrassingly, there are factions within my own country who would support this kind of thing even though Canada has never actually experienced a terrorist attack.

    Others have said this before me, and they have said it better. This is a stupid idea. It is a stupid idea in France, and it was a stupid idea in Canada. It is cowardly and unfair. It is risky. It would open the door for human rights abuses. And it would allow France (or other countries who practice it) to shove the responsibility for its own problems on other countries who do not deserve to deal with them more than France does.

    There is absolutely no guarantee that law enforcement in a terrorist’s secondary country of citizenship will ensure that the terrorist has no opportunities to be further involved in extremist activities. Once France revokes a citizenship, the French government will have no control over the former citizen. The former citizen could join militant organizations. They could use their understanding of French language and culture to help others carry out other attacks.

    But let’s assume that the secondary country of citizenship will use their laws to put this former French citizen behind bars. Who is to say that human rights will be respected in their prisons? Who is to say that the prisons are secure? Terrorists deserve basic human rights – that’s the point of human rights. They apply to everyone, even terrorists and pedophiles. If France did that, how could they claim in good conscience to be a country that respects human rights?

    Now let’s assume that this dual citizen has the citizenship of a country like Norway. Prison human rights are not going to be an issue. The French government strips him of his citizenship and ships him off to Norway. In Norway, Norwegian taxpayers shoulder the burden of this man’s imprisonment.

    Finally, how can France truly claim to not having money? France has the one of the best standards of living in the world. France uses the Euro, one of the world’s strongest currencies. Sure, it’s not perfect: the unemployment rate is fairly high, but France certainly has more money than many of the places where a terrorist would likely be deported if they lost their French citizenship.

    The French response wasn’t all bad. I heard about some programs meant for troubled youth that were opened in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and many French people – friends and otherwise – made it clear that they didn’t agree with the more conservative discourses present in French politics and, like me, thought the military patrols were useless and dangerous.

    At the end of my time in France, I had to go back to Istanbul to fly home to Canada. My train to the Paris airport left early in the morning. It was one third full, at best. Over the intercom, a sterile female voice kept telling us to make sure our bags were tagged with our name; otherwise, they would be subject to destruction. My bag was within my line of vision, but not tagged. I asked the woman next to me if it was as big a deal as they said, fully prepared for the afore-mentioned 18 year-old soldiers to board the train and cart my stuff off for some kind of incineration.

    “Oh no,” said the woman, “It won’t be a problem. You and I don’t look Middle-Eastern. I don’t agree with the way things are, but that’s the way they are.”

    **To be honest, while unpleasant, I think the Israeli approach to airport security is likely more effective than the approach France seems to have adopted.

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